Have you ever wondered what it is that enables some entrepreneurs to grow their businesses exponentially while others stagnate or even fail? Their secret is that they are able to locate and lead what I refer to as their “hidden” organization. You may believe you lack an organization, hidden or otherwise, particularly if your business is run by a “gang of one” or has a small staff. However, even the smallest businesses have an organization, and your success or failure is determined by your ability to identify that organization and then lead it in a way that produces more of the results you desire.
This could be a novel concept to consider. It is natural to consider massive corporations to have organizations. These are the “internal stakeholders,” which include salaried employees, departments, and committees. However, large companies are increasingly recognizing the critical role of independent consultants, suppliers, outsource providers, alliance partners, customers, and other “external stakeholders” in their organization’s ability to achieve high performance results.
Just as your business is a component of the external organization of your customers, it also has external stakeholders that comprise your hidden organization. The more adept you become at recognizing and leveraging the strength of these numerous relationships, the more likely you are to weather unexpected economic swings, minimize problems, and propel your business to the next level of growth.
Who constitutes your clandestine organization?
It can be difficult to identify all of the stakeholders who have an impact on your business. While some of these connections are self-evident, it is all too easy to overlook or underestimate the significance of others. However, if you define an external stakeholder as any individual, group, or organization that has an interest in the success of your business (whether they recognize it or not), your organization includes, but is not limited to:
•Clients •Suppliers •Outsourcers (payroll services, virtual assistants, etc.)
•Consultants (attorneys, accountants, bankers, business coaches, consultants, etc.)
•Partners in an alliance •Subcontractors in an alliance •Competitors in an alliance •Business and trade associations to which you belong •Advisory boards
When you discover the breadth of support, knowledge, skills, capabilities, and resources available through your stakeholders, you can offer services and products in ways you never imagined. For instance, a specialty clothing designer with a single store location partnered with an online distributor to create a global business that now serves customers worldwide. Even competitors have discovered a variety of ways to profit from limited collaborations. Growth opportunities exist if you look for them.
While large companies have organizational charts that outline departmental functions and employee roles, you can create your own “organizational chart” to outline how external stakeholders fill critical functions and roles for conducting business. Your accountant, attorney, and insurance agent, for example, are critical members of your “executive team.” Additionally, your organization includes your customers, alliance partners, outsource providers, and subcontractors with whom you may collaborate to deliver products and services.
Maintain an up-to-date organization chart as you continue to identify stakeholders. Depending on your own objectives, your customers’ objectives and needs, new technology, and economic shifts, certain stakeholders will gain prominence while others will lose prominence for a period of time.
Realigning your organization’s vision to include these and other external stakeholders enables you to consider new ways to reach your customers, expand your capabilities, and uncover new revenue and profitability opportunities.
Managing and leading your covert organization
After identifying your hidden organization, the next step is to lead and manage it effectively in order to achieve your growth objectives.
Clients frequently inform me that unexpected and pervasive problems seem to materialize out of nowhere (what I refer to as “strategic gridlock”). However, upon reflection, it is possible to trace the source of problems to one or more widespread but incorrect assumptions about our organizations that we all make based on our individual perceptions of reality.
As the leader and manager of your hidden organization, here are three questions to ask regularly in order to uncover assumptions, avoid gridlock, and grow your business:
• What distinguishes each stakeholder? As no two people are identical, no two stakeholders are identical. Yet it is all too easy to adopt a method of dealing with others that does not account for these distinctions. This can result in recurring issues, particularly if their values and practices differ from yours. Recognizing each stakeholder’s uniqueness will enable everyone to get the most out of each relationship.
• Are my stakeholders capable of carrying out my instructions? Due to the fact that external stakeholders may have priorities that differ from yours, unexpected changes in direction are common. Consistent communication with external stakeholders reduces the risk of being blindsided by these issues and enables you to prepare for them. Additionally, it notifies you of developments that may result in new growth opportunities for your business.
• Are my stakeholders willing to comply with my directives? External stakeholders are not always on the same page as you in terms of objectives or sense of urgency. The more you understand their perceptions of your objectives and their needs in relation to yours, the more likely you are to avoid conflicts, improve decision-making, and negotiate solutions that benefit everyone.
To fully address organizational challenges and lead your organization to high performance results, it is critical to understand not only who your stakeholders are, but also what issues they face and the potential impact of those issues on you. By regularly soliciting the perceptions of your stakeholders, you will be able to address any potential challenges from a position of organizational reality, rather than individual assumption.
Discover the hidden organization’s strength
Numerous entrepreneurs, particularly those accustomed to operating as “gangs of one,” overlook and underestimate the numerous ways in which they can leverage and grow their businesses through collaboration with external stakeholders.
Once you recognize that you are the architect of your own organization, the issues of leading and managing organizations of all sizes become identical; the same organizational principles apply to mega-corporations and solo entrepreneurs alike, because even the smallest businesses contain “hidden” organizations.
By leveraging the strength of your hidden organization, you can uncover previously untapped opportunities, avoid organizational snags, and scale new heights of success.